LONDON (Reuters) - The mobile Internet economy remains mostly uncharted territory for app publishers, their competitors, the advertisers who support them, and investors deciding where to place their bets.
Now Israeli start-up SimilarWeb Ltd. is expanding its service for measuring computer usage into the mobile Internet realm and the apps where users spend the overwhelming bulk of their time on smartphones.
Apps are the dedicated applications users have come to rely on rather than surfing the web for information. Apps are handier and store data locally, allowing people to use them whether or not they have a solid data connection.
Tel Aviv-based SimilarWeb introduced new services last week that give industry players and researchers a unified view of desktop computer, mobile Internet and mobile app activity among users, first in the United States and Britain, and then worldwide in coming months.
“SimilarWeb brings a transparency to the Internet economy never known before,” says Marco Rodzynek, founder of NOAH Advisors Ltd., a pan-European corporate finance boutique for Internet firms who previously headed media and Internet investment banking at Lehman Brothers Europe.
As human activity goes mobile, it no longer makes sense to rely on tracking only sedentary computer users for activities like shopping or dining out, for example.
Global consumer ecommerce sales alone are expected to reach nearly US$1.5 trillion in 2014 while spending on online advertising will top $140 billion, according to estimates by research firm eMarketer.
A recent Citi report forecast app store revenue will top $23 billion globally in 2014, up 43 percent from a year ago.
SimilarWeb gathers big pools of anonymized user data from a mix of sources to statistically analyze millions of sites, and more recently, mobile app activity. It turns this into rankings by country and sector category relative to peers.
“We measure how users engage with websites and mobile apps, and which destinations they use more than others,” SimilarWeb Co-founder and Chief Executive Or Offer said in an interview.
SimilarWeb has received about $25 million in backing from investors led by Naspers Ltd., the South African electronic media company which holds a 26 percent stake.
Other backers include top Israeli venture investors Moshe Lichtman of Israel Growth Partners, Yossi Vardi, the godfather of the Israeli start-up scene and Britain’s David Alliance.
What passes for mobile measurement now comes from sites led by AppAnnie and Yahoo’s Flurry, which mainly focus on analyzing initial downloads of apps. How much consumers use those apps and where they go from there is terra incognita.
“If SimilarWeb can replicate existing Web measurement tools in the app domain, they will have something really special,” said IDC mobile analyst John Jackson said, speaking of the general limitations of mobile Internet measurement.
Most Web analytics firms focus on single national markets, mainly the United States, or track usage in only a handful of developed countries, making it hard to verify competitive claims by Web or mobile firms in the rest of the world.
SimilarWeb’s closest peers are U.S.-focused Compete, a unit of WPP’s Millward Brown and Experian Plc’s Hitwise, which monitors the U.S. and six other major countries.
ComScore, the biggest player in Web tracking, has shifted increasingly into advertising measurement and is especially strong in so-called display, or banner ad analytics. Active in 172 countries, it focuses largely on big-budget clients to help them analyze where to spend their ad dollars.
SimilarWeb tracks Internet and mobile use in more than 200 countries, offering standardized rankings for site traffic in the top 55 Web countries, including lesser-known markets such as Colombia, India, Nigeria, Saudi Arabia and Ukraine. It targets search and social media marketing and, now, mobile strategy.
SimilarWeb is weighing its financing options and aims for an initial public offering in 2016, CEO Offer said.
Offer remains cagey about financial results, saying only that company sales are currently in the “double-digit millions” in terms of dollars.
Analyst Jackson sees a market to be conquered by the company that gets tracking right.
“The world’s eyeballs are going mobile. The ad spend is going mobile. I don’t think anyone has won the contest the way that Nielsen once did with measuring broadcast television,” he said.
Reporting By Eric Auchard; editing by Keith Weir